How to Add Visual and Structural Strength to a Form with Coils

Add strength, as well as visual interest by adding coils to the outside of your pots!

coils

If you’re looking to add a striking graphic quality to your pots, you’ll enjoy today’s post. Today, Elisa Helland-Hansen explains how she adorns her pots with coils for a simple and strong impact. Not only do these pieces have an assertive visual and tactile sense, the coils also add to their physical strength! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

P.S. This article was excerpted from Plates, Platters, & Bowls. Pick up a copy to learn more details about Elisa Helland-Hansen’s hump mold and how she uses a template and slabs to create her bowl before adding coil decorations.


Using softer clay (of the same clay body), extrude round coils that are approximately four-feet long. The thickness of the coil should not exceed twice the thickness of your bowl. Slice each coil in half without distorting the shape. Measure the curve of your bowl and cut the coils slightly longer than that measurement.

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Brush thick slurry onto the middle part of the bowl, then wrap one sliced coil over the slipped area and press it firmly onto the shape without distorting the coil (1). Continue to add new slip and coils at regular intervals until the bowl is covered (2).

coils

Once all the coils are attached, recheck each one to ensure a secure attachment, especially at the curves, so they  won’t pop off during drying or firing. Brush a slip (what kind and why?) over the whole piece and let it dry to a soft leather hard—stiff enough to be removed from the mold without distorting the shape, but before cracks appear due to shrinkage.

Leveling the Bottom

Take the mold off of the banding wheel, set it onto a flat surface, place a flat board over the bottom coils, and knock it several times with another long board to flatten the coils on the bottom.(3 and 4).

coils

Gently turn the mold over, loosen the edges from the mold and pull the mold up by using the four finger holes (5). Sometimes a crack forms at the curves. These can be easily mended, as long as the clay is still workable, by dripping slip in the crack and compressing it firmly. Use clay and a rounded rib to seal up the inside seam of the bowl.

Trimming the Rim

Measure the lowest height of your bowl and make a marking guide by sliding a needle tool through a tight hole of a square stick. Place the bowl on a flat, level board that’s slightly wider and longer than the bowl. Place the board on a banding wheel and mark a horizontal line with the needle tool around the whole bowl keeping the stick vertical while spinning the bowl (6).

Use a sharp knife to cut the edge of the bowl horizontally along the marked line. This will level the rim. Scrape the rim then use a soft rib to smooth it, being careful to avoid distorting the coil pattern. To finish the rim, I use a strip of plastic to soften the edges.

coils

To create a colored rim, apply a contrasting slip with a sponge roller. Now you can let the bowl dry. Place something flat on top of the bowl while it’s drying to prevent warping, then bisque fire the bowl.

Elisa Helland-Hansen was born in New York City and raised in Norway. She graduated from Bergen National College of Art and Design in 1978, was a professor in ceramics at HDK in Gothenburg, Sweden for five years, and has been a full-time studio potter in Bergen for 35 years. She recently moved to Rosendal in Hardangerfjord and built a new studio. To see more of her work, check out www.elisahh.no.

**First published in 2015.
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